Posted by: bgtwindad | March 19, 2010

A cheap way to make background trees…

Jerry (“Cox 1947”) on posted a great little tutorial on how he makes trees out of toothpicks and  foliage clusters.  Since I need a LOT of trees to cover my hill for my tunnel project, and I’m on a tight budget, I jumped right on this idea.

However, since my forest is mature, I needed significantly taller trees than Jerry’s.  So, based on an amalgam of other tree-making techniques, I made a few changes and came up with this…

First, I got some bamboo skewers:

I cut them roughly in half, giving me 6 inch long sticks. Next go-round I’ll break them at the 5/7 inch mark to give a bit of height variety. Then I spray painted them brown, and tried to mist on some black. Lesson #1: You can’t “mist” on Krylon rattle-can with the cheap spray head. You might be able to do it with the directional head. This would look FAR better done with an actual airbrush, or with some other paint technique.

Next, I took some aquarium filter fiber (basically fine-mesh polyfiber) and spray painted it black. Lesson #2: this is really hard to do successfully. It takes (and wastes) a LOT of paint. I think next go-round I’ll just fork over for the black stuff from Micro-Mark.

After all the paint had dried thoroughly, I coated the upper 1/2 to 2/3 of the sticks with white glue, took a section of the polyfiber and wrapped it around the stick, pressing it into the glue a bit. I could have dressed it up a bit here, but I didn’t. In the photo, you can see how some parts of the fiber didn’t get blackened fully.

I let that dry overnight (because I was busy!). This evening, I sprayed both of the trees with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement and then I held the tree over a pan while I sifted Woodland Scenics Fine Turf (“Green Grass” color) over it. Lesson #3: This is really a two-man job. For the second tree (the one with more fiber on it), I had TwinBoy rotate it like a pig on a spit while I focused on the sifting (I used “Weeds” color on this one). This worked much better, and he enjoyed it.

I think the Coarse Turf would look a bit more tree-like, but I didn’t have any. This came out pretty good, though, for a background tree. Here’s a couple of shots of the finished product, with a GP-40 for scale reference.

The first one is with some side-lighting, but no flash. The second, I added flash.

I’m still working on my camera technique. You can see in the flash shot how the tree on the right didn’t get as good coverage because I was trying to do both things at once. The left-hand tree came out better.

The white bits are wet glue. I’ll have to give them a good shake tomorrow to confirm how much of the turf really adhered to the polyfiber.

These are going to be filler/background trees on the hill over my tunnel. I don’t think they’d do all that good as a foreground tree, but as background filler I’m fairly pleased. They’re extremely cheap to make (i’ve got enough skewers for at least 200 trees, for about a buck!), will fill in the canopy well, and there’ll still be trunks if anyone looks closely.

Things I’d do differently next time (lessons re-capped):

  • Don’t try to “airbrush” with a rattle-can.
  • Maybe used textured paint on the skewers.
  • Cut or break the skewers at varied lengths (this was the plan all along).
  • Skip spraying the polyfiber and just buy the black stuff.
  • Spend a little more time shaping the polyfiber.
  • Use a helper (I’m lucky – I have two!) when sprinkling the trees.
  • Use blended or coarse turf, instead of fine turf.
  • Maybe mix in a little brown turf, like Jerry suggested.

Many thanks to Jerry for providing the toothpick technique that inspired this (I don’t think I invented anything here, just made his trees taller), and to “ddold” (also on  for suggesting the skewers. I think it’s going to work very well for my forest.



  1. love your method of making the tree’s this is the first time I am putting scenery on one of my layouts.I can use all the help I can get.

    • Thanks! There are other ways to make them that are still cheap and make much better looking trees. Usually they take a little time. But you know the old saying, “You can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick any two.”

      I recommend you hop over to or (among other places) and do a search on trees. There is some amazing stuff there!

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